It would seem the beginning of the shrinking of the US Military is about to begin in earnest. An article from NBC San Diego lays out some of the bad news.

The famous “Puck” cartoon from about 1881 seems ripe for re-publishing. With a mere 286 ships in commission and approximately 350 Admirals, the surplus of Flag Officers in the United States Navy is astounding. Each Vice-Admiral can be (figuratively) chopped into approximately five Second Class Petty Officers, or four First Class POs.

We are looking at “hard choices” in this time of crushing cutbacks? We haven’t the warships, amphibs, or auxiliaries to come close to executing the 2007 Maritime Strategy even before the cutbacks that are coming. We have a burgeoning adversary looking increasingly seaward in the western Pacific. Let us make the first and easiest of the “hard choices”. Eliminate half of the Flag Officers in the United States Navy, with the proviso that the ones who are retained must directly contribute to warfighting, readiness for war, and the mission of the United States Navy, which is “to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.”

Functions in the supporting establishments can be handled by Captains, as they once were.

While we no longer have yardarms on which “Puck” might portray our exceedingly top-heavy Navy, the point remains.

Oh, and the Marine Corps? The number of General Officers is 108. Let’s roll that back to 80.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Hard Power, History, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Navy, Tactics

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Derrick

    Eliminating flag officers may not be as easy as it reads…promoting top performers to flag rank may be a method of keeping good people in the US navy. Whether they perform flag rank duties or not is up to how their superior uses them. If the US navy is similar to other government offices than it’s very hard to bring good people onboard and keep them, so the navy leadership has to do something to trap the good people in.

    As for the dwindling number of warships, I think that issue should just be brought to Congress and let them decide what the margin of conventional deterrent should be before the US is forced to use nuclear weapons. Ultimately, due to population dispersal, the US navy will always be at a numerical disadvantage, and will always have to fall back on nuclear weapons to uphold the deterrent. It’s just a trade-off of how long the US wants to be able to fight a conventional war before being forced to use nuclear weapons.

    To look at it in extremes, if the window of conventional fighting is reduced from 3 months to 1 week, that would allow substantial reductions in conventional forces, but it would mean the US would have to fire its nukes a whole lot sooner than most people would anticipate.

    Ultimately this is a question for the people to decide. It is not the US military’s responsibility to answer that question, but just to make the people aware of it.

  • Given the current size of the forces, I cannot find legit justification for more than 160 Flag/General officers in all services combined…

  • Byron

    How about we start with the 50,000+ NAVSEA full time employess?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Maybe step 2? Start at the top and work down. They (flags) all have their retirement assured anyway.

  • Byron

    Oh…and cut the Diversity Directorate out, and sell their fancy new building at Patrick AFB to a hotel chain. THAT would be value added…

  • It’s easy to say there is a surplus of Flag Officers…but how about we start naming the actual billets for Flags that should be cut – and what work they do that either goes someplace else, or doesn’t need to be done.

    There might be a good metric out there, but a Flag Officer:Ship ratio seems silly. Ignores the operational and tactical aircraft and shore support infrastructure entirely.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    What was the number of Flag Officers twenty years ago, when the Navy had 605,000 sailors and 530 ships? Or 1971, when personnel strength was almost 660,000 and there were 750 ships in commission?

    Personnel strength today is not quite 325,000. We have but 285 ships. In 1971 we had 19 CV/CVNs, in 1991, we had 15. We now have 11.

    Yet, we have 350-odd Admirals in the US Navy. That is what’s silly. Shore and aviation establishments? We hadn’t that in 1991 or 1971? I would assert we had far more. Far more bases, yards, airplanes, ships, people. Far more of everything except Admirals.

    What ones can we do without? Ask the Navy and you will open the self-justification game. Mabus and Greenert should make the tough calls.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Start with the staff corps Admirals, and the restricted line Admirals. Then line Admirals in DC and at tenant commands at major bases.

    The question should be “Can a Commodore with a broad pennant do it?”

    Another interesting one is “What grade does it in the Coast Guard?

  • Cap’n Bill

    No doubt that we’d do just fine with a BIG reduction of flags in all services. Remember, it’s the smartz in the brain, not the gold on the sleve that really determines Mission Success or Failure.

  • HungerForKnowledge

    @Grandpa Bluewater

    Depends on the Restricted Line Admiral you want to cut, as they are not all the same. For things like Information Warfare, we only have 5, and they have an incredible amount of responsibility considering our mission set (Cyber, EW, and Info Ops). Supply/Medical….well, there’s lots of them, and they seem a little top heavy. Medical perhaps because its very officer heavy, since every doctor/nurse is an officer, it gives the illusion that you need more admirals to govern the system. Supply…not sure why, but going through the admiral list there are plenty of folks with “logistics” in their title.

    There are plenty of URLs that occupy useless positions:
    – Navy Region Commands
    – Deputy/Vice Commanders at any numbered fleet. We really need 3 admirals at every fleet?
    – Numerous chiefs of information at the Pentagon (almost all URL)
    – Assistants to CNO, DCNO, and other four stars (really? We can’t have CDRs do this?)
    – How about Community Support Branch (OPNAV N135)?
    – Warfare Development Command. Should be more junior personnel with few senior personnel if you want to cull innovation.
    – Energy and Environmental Readiness Division?
    – Lots of Admirals in Iraqi training divisions…those should go away once we get out of Iraq

    Making a blatant cut based on warfare area is dumb. We’ll simply hollow the force. What ought to happen is a look at what these jobs really require. Having been a flag aide before, I don’t see why you need 1-2 admirals, 2 CAPTs, and a host of CDRs/LCDRs on your staff, for each and every staff. Our enlisted personnel are very smart, and it would make sense to push many of these jobs to more junior personnel.

    Plus, a lot of “warfighting” admirals occupy non-warfighting positions. Take the numerous Program Managers, for example. We put a guy who’s job has been to drive surface ships around, and suddenly he’s in charge of a multi-million dollar contract. BTW, we shove him through some schools before hand and magically say he’s qualified. Really? It makes sense to put warfighters and the eventual customers in the development process, but does it make sense to put them in charge of the whole program? Do they really understand the ridiculous complications of defense acquisitions? Is this perhaps why our programs are almost all over budget?

    We’ve gotten sloppy and bloated with admiral (and officer in general) billets because we assume (1) that any URL can take any position, no matter his/her background, and (2) because we haven’t taken the time to do a real billet evaluation and actually assess what skills and rank are needed for each job. If we went billet by billet through the Navy once every 2 years, we could cut a lot of fat out and be better off for it, and be a more dynamic force. Instead, we play turf and rice bowl wars with the smug justification that everything we do is important because we’re the Navy.

    If we don’t do it, Congress will do it for us, and it’ll be like performing heart surgery with a rusty pocket knife.

  • Byron

    It’d be a good idea to keep flags who know how to lead and not follow…

  • Old Grunt

    There will be no reduction in Navy flag officers until DOD directs flag officer rank and number reduction across ALL of DOD. Having been far too long in Washington DC and experienced grade creep at its best, all the Navy, Marines and (yes) even the Army were simply trying to keep pace with the air force. If the other services had a 0-4 or 0-5, the Air Force had 3-5 0-6s. If the Marines or Navy had a one-star, the air force would have a two or three-star.
    Yes, it is ridiculous to have a 289 ship/350,000 person Navy and a 200,000-person Marine Corps with over 350 flag officers. A flag for every 1,600 sailors and Marines is ludicrous; more flags than ships is pathetic. The sad thing is that our military gets nothing for the money taxpayers are shelling out for these officers, their staffs, and their privileged life (both now and when they retire). Tell the people paying the bills and putting their lives on the line that they benefit from the current sycophants, egoists and micro managers we have in place today. See what you get for a response.
    I’d rather have 10 good NCOs than a single 0-7/0-8. The NCOs are a better investment.

  • Cap’n Bill

    Bryon is right.

    A most desirable factor also is recent combat experience. This may effect only USA/USMC officers who won their flag rank by combat experience in recent campaigns. As long as “we” are being choosey, some “Fire In The Guts” wouldn’t hurt.

  • Derrick

    BTW, what happens to the 3000 that are let go? Do they get packages to help them through the time between jobs, assuming they can find jobs elsewhere?

    Although this may give the outward appearance of saving money, it could only reduce the US navy’s personnel budget to increase the US government’s welfare budget. If this is the case, I’d prefer they get their welfare check from the US navy, so at least hopefully they would be doing some productive work too, instead of increasing the burden to the social programs.